Originally Posted: Jun 10, 2014
Last Updated: Jun 24, 2019
Summer is upon us, and with the end of another school year comes an influx of recent college grads into an already crowded and competitive job market. If you currently count yourself among these hopeful jobseekers, you’re likely already aware that landing your dream gig can be tough—but it’s not impossible. The key is finding ways to make yourself stand out, and one of the best ways to do that is to fine-tune your résumé.
Employers may receive dozens—or even hundreds—of résumés for a single position, so if you want yours to grab their attention, you have to think outside the box. Once you’ve put together an initial draft of your résumé, go through it and look for the following words that can ruin your odds of scoring an interview.
- “Professional.” This word is just too hard to prove. It’s too broad and it doesn’t really tell an employer anything about you as an individual. Think about what you’re really trying to convey with the word “professional,” then tap your backspace button 12 times and write something stronger. Do you mean you’re professional because always meet your deadlines, or do you have specific examples of times you’ve taken initiative and accomplished something spectacular? Great. Say that instead.
- “Competent.” This word is as weak and ineffectual as it’s making you sound. Again, think about the message you’re really trying to convey. Do you have a working knowledge of InDesign or WordPress? Remove the word “competent” and briefly summarize your competencies instead. “Effectively designed and implemented HTML for multiple websites” sounds better than “competent Web designer.”
- “References available upon request.” Ah, who doesn’t love chores, right? Employers, that’s who. Don’t make them go around digging for the information they need: give it to them up front.
- “Hardworking.” Anyone can say they’re “hardworking.” Indeed, who wouldn’t say they’re hardworking? If you’re trying to say that you always go above and beyond, such as taking on new assignments or volunteering to work extra hours, provide brief examples of how you’ve done that.
- “Detail-oriented.” Have you ever said a word over and over until you’ve said it so many times that it begins to lose its meaning (fun fact: the term for this phenomenon is “semantic satiation”—it’s a real thing!)? “Detail-oriented” is a term that has appeared on so many résumés that it’s begun to mean nothing at all. If what you really mean is that you’re an eagle-eyed proofreader or a graphic designer with a knack for concocting logos with hidden messages, say that instead.
- “Responsible.” No one would refer to themselves as “irresponsible” on a résumé—but that means calling yourself “responsible” is equally useless. Instead, describe the ways in which you’ve proven yourself when you’ve been given challenges and responsibilities in the past (i.e., “Promoted to head camp counselor at Camp Anawanna”).
- “Highly organized.” Granted, “scatterbrained” doesn’t really work on a résumé either, but you can’t just say you’re an organized person. “Organized” is a snooze-inducing word, which means it’s taking up valuable space you could be using to say something unique about yourself. If you really are organized, mention the way you implemented an electronic filing system at your last job or the time you successfully juggled and completed multiple projects at once.
- “Creative.” If you really were creative, you wouldn’t be using a word like this on your résumé. Unleash that gifted brain of yours and find a splashier way to describe your talents.
- “Best.” Avoid hyperbolic words like “best,” “most,” and “greatest” (unless you really did win some kind of “Most Valuable So-and-So” award—then go ahead and toot the heck out of your own horn). For the most part, they’re unprovable, and they can also carry you across the thin line that separates confidence and arrogance.
- “Awesome,” “rock star,” “kick-butt,” and the like. Unless you’re applying for a job in a very, very creative industry, you should avoid using casual lingo at all costs. You’re a grown-up now, so you need to write and talk like one.
In short, don’t just tell a potential employer that you have certain qualities or experiences. Show them how great you are with concrete but succinct details, and try to use strong, attention-grabbing words instead of clichés. It’s dog-eat-dog out there, but with patience, determination, and a kick-butt résumé (sorry, had to say it!), your hard work will be more likely pay off in the end.